Jan 292015

Four times a year, fellow members of Blogging Business Artisans are asked to tackle a team challenge and blog about it. The January challenge was suggested by Sharla of Beaded Tail on Etsy:

What do you hope to accomplish this year? What are you looking forward to doing in 2015? Do you have plans to travel some place exciting, move to a new home/city or how about get a kitten? Will you be taking your shop in new directions? Let us know or give us a hint of your year to come!

Because the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions are not kept, I tend to treat annual goals as guidelines or opportunities to excel instead of a contract I must follow at all costs. In fact, in looking at last year’s goals, it is obvious to me that I achieved some of them, but have room for improvement in other areas.

Review of Last Year’s Goals

  1. Find a better balance between volunteer work and creative efforts. As much as I enjoyed volunteering for the non-profit organization where I was a state Board member for 12 years, I came to the conclusion that the organization’s needs were driving my schedule, not me. As a result, I retired from that position with lots of good memories, but retain an ongoing volunteer relationship that now takes up only a fraction of my time.
Current & former State Board members of Students for a Creative Iowa. Back row, left to right: Bruce Antion, John Nolan, Keith Kutz, Steve Klawonn, Brenda Kutz, Mark Wilkins. Front row: Mary Koester, Judy Nolan, Kristie Rysdam, Sharon Wallace, Alisha Day, Jay Swords. Missing: Sam Hapke, James Honzatko.

Current & former State Board members of Students for a Creative Iowa. Back row, left to right: Bruce Antion, John Nolan, Keith Kutz, Steve Klawonn, Brenda Kutz, Mark Wilkins. Front row, left to right: Mary Koester, Judy Nolan, Kristie Rysdam, Sharon Wallace, Alisha Day, Jay Swords. Missing: Sam Hapke, James Honzatko.

  1. Establish a photography schedule. I don’t know that I have a set photography schedule, but items no longer languish in a box or a corner, waiting to be photographed so that they can be listed in my Etsy shops. Instead, I finish a few projects, then photograph them. I have found it to be more efficient to photograph a few items at a time versus only one.
  1. Have enough product on hand for craft shows. This area needs a great deal of improvement during 2015. I had a more successful fourth quarter of the year that I didn’t anticipate I would have, and ran out of product in some categories.

3rd craft show of 2014

  1. Learn about bag construction. This is an ongoing project. I signed up for the Bag of the Month Club both last year and this year, and honestly did not get around to finishing any of these rather complicated patterns. Instead, I am working on some simpler bag projects. There is, however, no particular deadline for completing bags, so I’m not going to worry too much about how quickly I gain knowledge or complete bags.

Bag Projects

  1. Clean up the paper crafting studio and sewing room. This is another of those ongoing projects that I think all creatives face. In a recent post, I discussed the need to be more organized so that “craft creep” doesn’t take over the entire house.
  1. Lose weight. I lost a little bit of weight this past year, but have a long way to go. Once more, this is an ongoing objective.

2015 Goals

  1. Streamline the creative process so that it is less time-intensive. I wrote about this goal last week in Efficiency meets serendipity, where I discussed how much time and physical effort it takes to craft books. By looking for areas to cut corners without sacrificing quality, I can achieve this goal.
  1. Strive for more economical ways to craft items. I also wrote about this goal last week in Using paper scraps to craft floral accents. By using more frequently the materials I have on hand instead of buying new items, and by purchasing supplies either wholesale or with a discount coupon, I will achieve a greater profit on sales of hand-crafted items.
  1. Optimize craft storage and working space. We live in a small ranch-style home, so there is only so much square footage available for crafts and crafting. A fellow crafter, Edi Royer, recently wrote, “Every time I think I have a good system down, I buy new things that need a new home and new organization.” The same applies to me, but the challenge is to minimize cost during that process, and to make the most of what I already have. I discussed this topic a bit in a previous post, Taming the creative beast.
  1. Aim for a more strategic approach to selling. In concrete terms, this means I have set aside a small budget for marketing education this year, and will be making changes to the ways I sell my handmade goods over the course of the year as a result of what I learn. During the seven years I have been selling on the Etsy platform, there have been many changes. If you don’t keep up, you fall behind, and so do your sales. Ever notice how young, slender trees survive a storm better than some old-but-beautiful trees? I aim to be able to bend with the wind.

Resource book

That’s it for this year. Fewer goals, but larger ones, are on the agenda for 2015. What are some of your most important business goals this year? Or, if you don’t sell, what are some of your personal ones? Feel free to share a link to a post you wrote about your goals, or to comment below.

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Jun 302014

The Web is a wonderful place to learn about new crafting techniques and challenges. Earlier today I ran across a Facebook announcement from Michael Sellick, the founder and leader of The Crochet Crowd, an online community of crochet enthusiasts. Mikey, as he is known among his friends, invites everyone who crochets to participate in the 2014 Stitch-cation Summer Challenge, basically a patchwork afghan made out of squares of assorted stitches and colors. The challenge begins on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

The goals behind the 2014 Stitch-cation Summer Challenge are as follows:

  • Learn and/or be refreshed with 10 different stitch combinations.
  • Learn how to change colors effectively without hideous knots hanging out.
  • Explore color with a minimum of eight different colors by crocheting squares, playing with color in each square, not necessarily one color per square.
  • Use your imagination when assembling your afghan.
  • Create a Free Choice Border using your own design of at least 4 rounds.

Mikey provides you with a free Stitch-cation Workbook containing all of the crochet stitch patterns that are required in the challenge. Although you can certainly print the 22-page PDF document, I recommend that you download it to your computer or portable digital device, since it contains links to how-to videos.

The sample afghan that Mikey commissioned has 20 squares crocheted from economical Red Heart Super Saver Yarn, but you can make your afghan any size you wish, as long as you have at least 20 squares using each stitch twice. You can also use any yarn you wish; it does not have to be Red Heart Super Saver Yarn. If you use variegated yarn, that counts as one of the eight minimum colors. You can also make as many afghans as you wish, and each one counts as a separate entry in the challenge.

Complete your project by September 1, 2014 and send an e-mail to Mikey at mikeyshelpdesk@hotmail.com with a photo of your completed project so that it can be included in a gallery and be eligible for a random drawing of 3 winners. Make sure you include “Stitchcation” in the subject line. The winners will each receive a Red Heart Fully Loaded Yarn Bag with Crochet Crowd Gifts. You are also encouraged to post a photo on the Crochet Crowd Facebook page.

I’ve decided to use yarn that reminds me of Easter eggs, definitely bright and summery.


If you are going to participate in this fun learning challenge, make sure you follow the complete rules found HERE. Happy hooking!

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Feb 152014

It has been a while since I have been sewing on a consistent basis . . . and what I sew today is very different from what I used to sew. Decades ago I sewed dresses and skirts for myself, and play clothes for our son. Today my projects are much smaller and tend to be functional home items such as potholders, aprons, organizers, and—as I announced in January—bags. But not a single bag has been sewn since the beginning of the year, I must admit. I have received two bag patterns through the online Bag of the Month Club, but beautiful as they are, I am a little intimidated by all the pages of the instructions: 25 pages for the Bye Bye Love Bag and 15 pages for the Butterfly Sling Purse.

So, I have decided some warm-up bag projects may be in order before I run a full bag marathon.

Earlier this week, I attended a Purse Party held at Quilter’s Cupboard in Ankeny, Iowa. This is the second or third one to which I have gone. It is typically held in mid-February and is designed to introduce sewists to a wide range of bag patterns, bag sewing tools, and—this time—to different options for lining or adding structure to your bag. “We all know,” says Cindy Peters, owner of Quilter’s Cupboard, “that the outside of your bag is only as good as the inside of your bag.”

Quilter's Cupboard

Below are some tips I’ve gathered from the collective Purse Parties I have attended:

1. When you sew with vinyl, either use a Teflon-coated presser foot, or adhere a little transparent tape to the bottom of the foot so that it will glide smoothly over the vinyl, instead of sticking to it.

2. If you like to add some hand embroidery to your bag projects, backing it with Shapeflex woven fusible interfacing adds body without weight.

3. If you are working with multiple fused layers of fabric and/or fusible yardage, let each layer cool down before adding more layers.

4. One way to mash seams is with pliers.

5. Use Scotchguard on bags to make them dirt-resistant.

6. Use spray starch after washing bags to give the fabric that crisp “just bought” feeling.

So, what is the first warm-up bag I decided to tackle? At the Purse Party held earlier this week, all of the attendees were given a free pattern using vinyl .pet mesh (also known as vinyl bag mesh). The owner of the business, in fact, told us she made dozens of these bags as Christmas gifts. “They work up really fast,” she said, “and they’re addictive.” I took Cindy at her word, and decided to make a yarn project bag for myself. This project, incidentally, satisfies all the requirements for the February Blogging Business Artisans challenge, spelled out by Sharla of Beaded Tail:

Love is celebrated this month so show us what you love! Whether it’s time with family, spring around the corner, food or furbabies, create something that shows us what you love!

When you work with vinyl—whether it’s solid or the mesh variety—you can’t really use pins because they leave behind holes. I find Clover Wonder Clips to be indispensable. They are rather expensive at $6.95 for 10 of them, however, so binder clips from the office supply store will work equally well if you’re on a tight budget.


The pattern suggests you use chalk to draw a stitching line on the pet mesh, but I couldn’t find my chalk marker. Washi tape is a great substitute, however. Thankfully, I had a roll on hand, courtesy of Deb Baroff of Stroll Through Storyland, who was my Secret Santa this past December. Thank you, Deb!


The straps on the bag were made using the Lazy Girl Wrap & Fold method. Basically, you wrap a strip of stabilizer (Stiff Stuff, in my case), or interfacing, “like a hot dog in a crescent roll,” according to Joan Hawley of Lazy Girl Designs. This is a quick and easy alternative to sewing a tube of fabric, turning it inside out, and threading stabilizer through it. As Joan says, “Ewwww. And we can do better.”


Because I worked on this bag between other tasks—answering e-mails, doing laundry, finishing some handmade books, and more—I suspect it took me longer to finish it than if I had sewn it without interruption. However, I would guess it took only a few hours to complete. Cindy told her Purse Party participants that you can also use favorite-but-outgrown or worn out T-shirts for the front of your bag if you back the knit fabric with stabilizer. If I try this, I will share it with you in a future post. For now, this is my finished yarn project bag. The fabric, “Knitty Kitty,” was designed by Greta Lynn for Kanvas Studio in association with Benartex. If you use it, be aware that the red is not color-fast; I tend to pre-wash my fabrics in cold water and then tumble dry them on low heat. The red in this fabric bled a little—not critical for a bag like this that will probably not be laundered or, if it is, will be hand-washed and air-dried.

DSCN8165Next on the agenda is a small zipper pouch to hold T-pins used for seaming when I crochet. I am confident that if I take on a few smaller projects before attempting the official Bag of the Month patterns, I will handle the sewing more confidently. Kristin Link of Sew Mama Sew suggests that if you take the time to enjoy the ritual of sewing, you’ll get more out of it. “There is a zen proverb that goes, ‘when walking, walk,'” she says in her post, Joyful Sewing: 12 Tips for Enjoying a Stress-free Hobby. That’s my goal, so I’m going to walk through a few simpler bag projects before running with more complicated ones.

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.